The process of 3D printing was originally developed in the 1980s. Since then, technologies have evolved, and 3D printing has become a widely adopted process that is used throughout many diverse industries. Here, the team at Custom Color 3D Printing discuss the different printing processes, design considerations, as well as the benefits and possible applications for 3D printing.

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What Is 3D Printing?

Modern 3D printer printing figure close-up macro Unlike subtractive manufacturing techniques like machining, which takes material away from the workpiece to form a product, 3D printing is a manufacturing process that builds up layers of material according to a set of programmed instructions. Each layer forms a thin cross-section of the finished product to create three-dimensional models. 

3D manufacturing is the process of joining materials to create objects based on a 3D digital model. The process often occurs one layer at a time by fusing part geometries with the previous layer. There are several techniques available to create objects using 3D printing, and many types of materials can be used. Plastics, metal, glass, photopolymers, reaction polymers, and composites can all be used in the 3D printing process. Due to the layering that the process entails, the surface finish of 3D-printed objects is often different in comparison to traditionally manufactured components. 3D printed objects are particularly well-suited for small-batch manufacturing, such as prototyping. 

Why Do You Need 3D Printing?

While 3D printing got its origins in medical equipment, visual consumer models, and niche industrial products, today’s applications are much more expansive. 3D printing is commonly used to create a wide variety of consumer goods, including art, toys, architectural and interior design finishes, and wearable products such as jewelry and shoes. 

However, 3D printers themselves can make in-house printing cost-prohibitive. They require industry-specific printers, designers and specialists with experience, and more. Using a service provider for unfettered access to different printer types and a wide variety of designs and materials is preferable to many companies. Through a skilled 3D printing provider, your company can create prototypes and artistic prints at the start of a project, fully functional figurines, and display models for stores.

3D Printing Processes

3D part manufacturing can be broken down into several methods which include:

  • Material Extrusion: Material extrusion involves taking a shaped bead of material and pushing it through a nozzle that is controlled by a computer. The materials used in this process are often melted and create the desired component shape while being formed on a support structure, build platform, or simply on top of the component itself. The type of machine most commonly used for this process is fused deposition modeling machines (FDM).
  • Material Jetting: In this process, microdroplets of material are deposited selectively onto a building surface. Material jetting can produce parts that are very detailed and has the advantage of being able to use multiple materials and colors in the printing process. One type of material jetting process is PolyJet. Derived from the term “polymer jetting”, PolyJet deposits UV-cured liquid resin selectively, using ink-jetting.
  • Powder Bed Fusion: Producing plastic or metal parts by selectively melting model features using powdered raw material is known as powder bed fusion (PBF). This technique is usually performed layer by layer and uses heat to fuse parts, usually a laser. This process is frequently used in the production of end-use parts as the final products are made from dense thermoplastics and metals.
  • Vat Photopolymerization: This process selectively cures liquid materials inside a material chamber using UV light. After the build plate is removed from the curing surface, resin is added either by flowing into place naturally or with a recoater blade. Vat photopolymerization is among the oldest 3D printing processes. 

These categories are only the most commonly used practices; there are other 3D processes as well. These include binder jetting, directed energy deposition, sheet lamination, and more. 

Design Considerations When 3D Printing

3D printing processes have varying design restrictions and capabilities. General design considerations for 3D printing to remember include: 

  • Overhangs: Since 3D printed material can’t be deposited into the air without support, each layer must be printed onto a base material. However, some areas of a model might be only partially supported by a previous layer, or not supported at all. These areas are called overhangs. Each type of 3D printer can produce a limited angle without the need for additional support, typically a 45-degree angle. It’s best to limit overhangs in component designs.
  • Wall thickness: Another important consideration is wall thickness. Each 3D printing process is able to produce precise features that are thin to a degree. A good rule of thumb is to add at least 0.8 mm wall thickness to your models.
  • Warping: Since the materials used for 3D printing are frequently melted or scanned with a laser, they undergo significant physical changes. The materials are heated and cooled which can cause them to warp. Warping is especially prevalent in large, flat printed surfaces; however, this can be avoided by making sure machines are correctly calibrated and by having adequate adhesion between the print bed and the part. Whenever possible, try to avoid including large, flat surfaces in models and use rounded corners to avoid warping.
  • Level of detail: It’s important to consider the minimum size features that 3D printers can produce when designing models. The mechanics of 3D printing processes combined with the selected layer height result in the detail capabilities. Decide what level of detail is critical to your design and then select a 3D printing process based on its capabilities. 

 

Benefits of 3D Printing

3D printing offers many benefits over traditional design and manufacturing techniques. Key benefits of working with Custom Color Printing include:

  • Complexity: 3D printers can create complex objects. This has benefited a number of industries, ranging from artists and designers to industrial applications. There is a big demand for components that are both lighter and stronger than their predecessors, and 3D printing achieves this while allowing for complex design models.
  • Customization: 3D printing allows for the mass production of highly customized designs. Products can be developed that meet specific requirements.
  • Environmentally Friendly: 3D printing produces a lower carbon footprint than traditional manufacturing methods through the creation of lighter and stronger objects which use up to 90% fewer materials. It creates less waste and is an energy-efficient production method.
  • Tool-Less: The need for tool production is eliminated with 3D printing, as well as the costs, lead times, and labor associated with it. In low to medium volume applications, 3D printing can save valuable resources. 
  • Cost-efficient production. 3D printing is a cost-effective solution for low-volume production runs, especially for colorful, intricate designs.
  • Comprehensive support. Our team will help you bring your designs to life. We’ll match your product and design with the right printer and materials for the job. Even if our facility doesn’t have the right type of printer for the job, we’ll help you find a service that does.
  • File conversion. 3D printers need specific file types to change the design specifications into clear instructions for the machinery. We’ll help design and engineer the right files to create a 3D representation of your product.

3D printer printing a green container

3D Printing Applications

Due to significant advancements in 3D printing technology, it has become a popular production method for many industries. 

Aerospace and Defense

This industry adopted 3D printing technology early for product development and prototyping. Research and development standards in this industry are very demanding and 3D printing systems are useful in the development of many components. Some specific components that have been produced using 3D printing technology in this industry include:

  • Brackets
  • Jet engine components
  • Jigs and fixtures
  • Spacer panels
  • Small surveillance drones
  • Spare parts

Architecture

3D printing technology is very useful in creating accurate demonstration models for the architectural industry. Architects can produce highly detailed models from 3D, BIM, CAD, or other digital data. 

Automotive

The automotive industry relies on 3D printing technologies for prototyping applications and the adaptation of the manufacturing process for automotive parts. Some components that are developed using 3D printing  are: 

  • Injection molds
  • Jigs
  • Fixtures
  • Spare parts

Consumer

The consumer industry has come to recognize 3D printing as a valuable manufacturing process as it is highly adaptable to the ever-changing nature of consumer demands. 3D printing is a cost-effective way to approach product development, testing, and production and is used for goods such as electronics, toys, and sportswear, among other products. 

Jewelry

3D printing has eliminated many traditional manufacturing steps in the jewelry industry and has been disruptive to traditional production methods. It has introduced innovation and further development to this industry while allowing for new design freedoms. 

Medical and Dental

There are a number of applications for 3D printing within the medical and dental communities, which were early adopters of this technology. 3D printing technology offers customization capabilities that have the potential to cause major industry growth while meeting medical standards. Some of the most commonly produced components for these industries include:

  • Dental tools
  • Hearing aids
  • Hip and knee implants
  • Orthotic insoles
  • Personalized prosthetics

3D Printing Capabilities from Custom Color Printing

Custom Color Printing specializes in 3D printing services for boutique clients and unique projects. We create 3D printed models and have full color printing capabilities. Our team is here to help turn your concepts into design files and physical three-dimensional representations. We work with the following platforms:

  • AutoCAD
  • Fusion360
  • HP SmartStream 3D
  • MakerOS
  • NetFabb

There is constant innovation in the field of 3D printing technology. The benefits it provides, such as the ability to produce complicated and highly customized designs cost-effectively, have led it to be adopted by many industries. Custom Color 3D Printing provides full-color printed models as well as electronic prototyping services.

We can help you find the perfect printer for your project and convert your design to the correct file type. If you have an application that requires 3D printing or rapid prototyping, contact us to get started on your customized solution. We offer lead times as short as 10 days, with capabilities of 48 hours on many projects.

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